Let me start with a disclaimer: In no way is this meant to be an all-encompasing primer on the electrical properties of copper, nor to compare super-cable “X” to super-cable “Y”.

To me, one of the quickest and biggest audio “bangs for the buck” is upgrading the wire connecting your speakers to your amp/receiver. Chances are, unless you buy your entire system as a package, you will have to buy or make your own speaker wire and a little knowledge in this department can go a long way towards better sound.

Speaker wire, like other passive electrical components, is described by its impedance. Impedance itself has three properties: resistance, capacitance, and inductance. After consulting with an electrical engineer and long time friend, I can confirm that resistance is considered real while capacitance and inductance are considered imaginary. Not my words, his. Considering realistic cable runs of up to 30ft using good amplifiers, we will focus on resistance, as capacitance and inductance play a very small part when compared to resistance. Resistance can be minimized by A) decreasing the length of the wire, which does you no good if you need a specific length (from your amp to your speakers for example) and/or B) increasing the cross-sectional area of the wire.

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A reasonable example would be the fuel line in your car, the smaller the hose, the more work your fuel pump does to feed that engine and the less performance you get out of said engine.

Take for example your standard, run-of-the-mill bookshelf speaker wire at 22 AWG (American Wire Gauge). The actual wire (not including the insulation) has a diameter of 0.644mm and thus a cross sectional area of 0.326mm2. This is perfectly adequate if you are powering the speaker in your Apple Watch, but not so much high quality speakers. Now let’s compare that wire to a very modest upgrade (in price) to 14 AWG wire. The conductor diameter goes up to 1.628mm and the resulting cross sectional area to 2.08mm2. We have just decreased the resistance to about a sixth of what it was, making it significantly easier for your amp to drive your speakers resulting in a less strained sound. You get more Ferrari and less Geo Metro.

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How much does this upgrade cost you ask? I got my 100ft spool of Mediabridge 14 AWG 99.9% Oxygen Free Copper speaker wire on Amazon for $29.99. At $0.29 per foot, hat has to be one of the cheapest and immediately audible performance upgrades anyone can make.

Robert Ebeling III, MD

  • Jim Milton

    But I just sold my car so I could buy new magic speaker cables!

  • Mossback Rossi

    Consider using magnet wire for speakers and interconnects. If its does what it does in my Step up transformers it reasons that it its also adept at higher currents. I fab’d up a pair for my Wilson sophia’s, I have never been more pleased. Stiff, difficult to work with, yes but not impossible.

  • jimmyz2

    What about silver vs cooper for cables?

  • Altplasma

    If 14 AWG is better than 22 AWG, is 12 AWG better than 14 AWG. The MediaBridge 12 AWG is only around $45 for 100 feet.

  • RA

    Silver costs 20 times more than copper and only lowers the resistance by an unimaginably small amount, The cost benefit ratio would be way out of whack, Using silver, despite what wire manufacturers will try to sell you, gets you nothing but a much thinner wallet. Since I’m at it let’s get rid of this oxygen free copper myth. Oxygen free copper was needed to wind super conducting magnets at near 0 Kelvin in atomic accelerators. At those immense currents near absolute zero the oxygen atoms would vibrate and cause heating, which defeats the purpose. At the temperatures and voltage/amperage you are sending from your amp to the speakers nothing, and I repeat nothing, can possibly be gained by using oxygen free copper vs regular copper wire except the previously mentioned wallet lightening effect.

  • John Johnson

    Silver is a much better conductor than copper, and if the cost were the same, all cables would be made of silver. Even the silver oxide that eventually coats the silver wire is a great conductor. That’s not the case with copper wire. However, I think the way the conductors are wound together probably makes more difference than the metal that is used.

  • Boomzilla

    LOL – I made some biwire cables from auto 8 AWG. Despite the low resistance I couldn’t hear any difference from several sets of 10, 12, & 14 AWG wires from “name brand” manufacturers. Now that said, I HAVE heard two brands of wires that I thought had their own “sound.” The Kimber braided wires sound (to me) to soften the treble (maybe because of their capacitance?); the Nordost ribbon style wires sound (to me) to emphasize the treble (no clue as to why). But the idea of using speaker wire to “tune” an audio system isn’t too great an idea anyway.

  • Dave Johnson

    The resistivity of Silver is approximately 5.3% lower than Copper at 20C. Not insignificant, but very costly to capture that last nickel of performance.

  • RA

    Sorry, I have to disagree. We’re talking about the resistance in a 14 awg copper wire of maybe 10 to12 ft. The resistance at these voltages and amperages would be insignificant even at the aforementioned 30 ft.. 5.3% of insignificance is insignificant. (Even though I think it would be superfluous you could go to 12 awg wire or braid some 16 awg wire and buy some inexpensive terminators). We do agree, however, that the cost/benefit ratio is way out of whack for using silver. There just isn’t anything to gain in this type of application to warrant anything but regular copper wire of a reasonably large gauge. If you’ve got a few $100 laying around buy better speakers. Don’t waste your money on somebodies grandiose claims about a piece of wire. Dave, I really don’t disagree with anything you said in your article.

  • Schurkey

    Speaker cable quality is described by Resistance, Inductance, Capacitance, PLUS NOISE. Everyone–including me, a few years ago–forgets the “noise” part. It’s like thinking the “THD plus noise” spec of an amplifier is the THD spec. Don’t forget the noise portion. Not many cable companies will provide resistance, inductance, capacitance and noise info on their cables, and yet, that’s all that’s important beyond the price. (Well, OK, the Country of Origin matters, too.) If cables could readily be compared by RCL + noise, we’d see the end of zillion-dollar cables; a return to sanity in the Cable Industry.

    If you think that inductance and capacitance aren’t important, you might want to research the ancient Polk Audio “Cobra Cables”; supposedly wonderful-sounding in part due to the very low inductance…if the excess capacitance didn’t blow-up your amplifier.